Bedding and clothes? Check. Shower caddy? Check. Preparedness to eat alone most days? Check. Wait, what?
My fears about going to the University of Maryland were pretty standard. Will I make friends? Will the classes be difficult? What will I wear? I had no clue that in the very near future, I’d have to worry about something as mundane as eating. That ended abruptly during the second week of classes.
The first week of classes, I didn’t realize that eating alone would become such a harrowing experience, as I made sure to have someone to eat with every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whether it was my roommate or someone I met in classes, I made sure that I always had an eating companion.
Then came the second week of classes when I received a text message from a friend that bore unexpectedly bad news: “Sorry, I can’t grab lunch, I have to catch up on some work. Next time though.” Fifteen minutes later, I stood in a room full of people I didn’t know, clutching my lunch tray and wondering where in the world I would sit down. That’s when my heart rate began its steady incline.
In my mind, the moment I entered the dining hall with my lunch, all eyes were suddenly on me. I could almost hear their thoughts. “It looks like she has no friends. Where is she going to sit? Is she planning to eat by herself?”
The thought of eating by myself had never occurred to me until that very moment, and it terrified me. I feared that people would pay attention to the way I ate, or that they would give me that piteous smile because they noticed I had no one to sit with. “Oh, that’s the girl that sits by herself to eat.”
I’m almost sure that a bead of sweat trickled down my forehead as I searched the crowd desperately to find a single familiar face. No luck. Finally, I told myself, “You are going to have to sit by yourself.” At that time the beat of my heart began to rival Phil Collins on the drums.
My gaze wandered around the room to locate an empty table, and as soon as I found one, I locked in on my target destination. On my way to the table I made sure to keep my eyes down, trying my hardest not to make eye contact with a single soul in fear that my eyes just screamed “I’M GOING TO SIT BY MYSELF!” I told myself to keep my head down and my eyes low, or someone would surely hear the telltale heartbeat pounding in my chest. I shuffled through the crowd of frenzied freshmen and finally made it to my destination. Looking around, I was shocked to discover that no one was paying attention to me.
I placed my lunch tray on the table as quietly as possible as to make the least amount of disruption. It practically slipped through my fingers from how sweaty my palms were, and this was just from the thought of eating alone. There are people my age giving speeches in front of hundreds of people, performing for ambassadors and prime ministers, and here I am, shaking in my boots at the thought of eating alone. Again, I scanned the room for judging eyes and pathetic smiles, but I found nothing. Then the realization hit me.
No one cares if you’re eating alone; most of them are eating alone, too.
A feeling of complete relief washed over me. My revelation soon became evident in my surroundings. The boy sitting at the table adjacent to mine got some homework done while eating alone. A lady at another table nonchalantly watched Netflix as she had lunch by herself. Those who were eating with their friends were in rapt attention with either their buddies or their phones. No one even noticed me; I could eat in peace.
No one gave me the sad smile that I’d been expecting because no one cared. Brimming with pride at my small step towards independence, I chowed down on my lunch, and left for my 2 p.m. comparative literature class. Only upon my arrival did my heart beat return to its regular pace.
As my time in college progressed, I realized that this wonderful rule applies to many more aspects of college life, including going to the gym, walking to class alone, sitting in the front or back of the classroom, or the many trips you take to the lounge to make macaroni in the microwave (or is that just me?). No one cares because everyone has something to do, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the beauty of college life.